Tips for Choosing Common-Sense Camping Equipment

A simple campsite in the Cibola National Forest west of Socorro. A book, a jug of water, a loaf of bread, and my wife beside me. What more could a person want?

You have to go camping in New Mexico! We live in a state with astounding natural beauty. Going to buy equipment? Just remember that the camping store brochures are not a catalog of what you need, but a catalog of what they want to sell you.

My outdoor experiences have always come with a minimal price tag. So, if you are thinking about getting started with camping, or maybe if you just want to see how a person can sleep on the ground and still enjoy the experience, read on. Here’s a common-sense approach to equipment selection.

Tent. It should be bomb-proof — able to stand up to anything. Get a smaller one, like REI’s venerable Half Dome 2 Plus. Big tents leak, sleep cold, are worrisome in the wind, and tend to break poles in severe weather.

Ground Cloth. You don’t need one. If you use a tarp, make sure to fold it in under the tent edges so the rain doesn’t hit it.

Camp Stove. You need one. But new ones are $100 and those little green propane canisters can cost $10 each. You might want to consider an old-fashioned gasoline stove. Craigslist had a nice used Coleman stove for $30 recently. And a gallon of fuel lasts a long, long time. They are a bit tricky to use, but some find the pumping, the smell of gasoline, the hissing sounds and sudden robust flare-ups kind of appealing.

Lantern. Forget it. Amazon sells a pair of rechargeable headlamps for $27. If you insist on a lantern, get propane. In a lantern, propane lasts almost forever.

Sleeping Bags. A 20º down bag is my favorite. For couples, an affordable selection like the Kelty Cosmic 20 can be bought to zip together, making even a cold night heavenly. If you can’t afford down, use a couple of comforters off the bed and save up.  

Sleeping Pads. Look at the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus. It’s one-and-a-half inches thick and way more comfortable than you think. I’ve used one for decades.

Water Jugs. Use gallon water jugs from the grocery store, not five-gallon models that are heavy and hard to use. Find a plastic crate to haul them easily.

Campsites. And finally, New Mexico State Parks’ tent sites run $8 per night. Nationally, that’s really cheap! National Forest campgrounds are usually free.

Jon Knudsen is a freelance writer and retired educator. Email him at

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